Marin County ranchers, residents debate slaughter proposals
Efforts by the Marin County ranching community to obtain more local options for killing and processing livestock have run into opposition from residents who don’t want slaughter operations there.
The Marin County Board of Supervisors next week will consider language that would allow ranchers to bring mobile slaughter units onto their properties for cattle and other livestock. The provisions also would allow permanent, small-scale poultry processing facilities on farmlands.
Marin ranchers echo what their counterparts around the North Coast have long maintained: A lack of slaughter facilities in the region threatens to hold back the growth of niche livestock operations that offer grass-fed beef and other premium meats. Petaluma does have a slaughterhouse in operation for cattle and other animals, but for years the region’s ranchers have taken sheep, hogs and poultry to processing plants in the Central Valley.
“If the consumers want a local food movement, then the county needs to support it,” said Lisa Poncia, who owns Stemple Creek Ranch outside Tomales with her husband Loren, a fourth-generation rancher there.
But opponents said slaughter operations would bring in a host of problems for neighbors, property owners and the environment.
“It affects real estate values,” said Michael Schinner, a spokesman for Citizens Against Marin Slaughter. “It affects quality of life.”
County supervisors are slated to take up the matter Tuesday.
The county Planning Commission last month recommended allowing mobile slaughter units and also poultry-processing facilities that could slaughter up to 20,000 birds a year. The mobile units could be used up to three consecutive days per week, or up to 12 days a month, without the need to obtain a temporary use permit.
However, after hearing from critics, commissioners proposed to limit such operations to larger ranch parcels and not allow the practices on lands with a residential agriculture zoning. The officials also jettisoned a third option that would have allowed permanent livestock slaughter facilities on agricultural lands, and they specifically excluded the slaughter of rabbits at poultry facilities.
The supervisor’s decision will be watched by agriculture leaders in Sonoma and nearby counties. Farmers here have long maintained that reducing a ranch’s carbon footprint requires finding alternatives to trucking animals long distances to outside processing facilities.
Sam Dolcini, the former president of the Marin County Farm Bureau, acknowledged it’s too early to know if a mobile slaughter unit would prove an economically viable option.
“All we’re trying to do is have this option on the books,” Dolcini said.
A USDA publication reports the federal agency approved the first U.S. mobile slaughter unit in 2002 in Washington state. The Cooperative Extension, a network of land-grant university extension professionals, lists less than a dozen such mobile slaughter units in operation nationally for cattle and other livestock, including one in Paso Robles. Those mobile units require the presence of a USDA inspector to monitor the killing and processing of livestock. However, poultry ranchers processing fewer than 20,000 birds a year on their farm come under state rather than USDA oversight.
Schinner said the county at least should require ranchers to get a use permit for slaughter operations. That would allow neighbors to raise concerns at a public hearing about such health issues as potential groundwater contamination.